November's End

Arabel's Raven, by Joan Aiken, was one of those impulse choices - I saw it in the library, noted that the illustrations were by Quentin Blake, and decided N & I needed to read it. It turned out to be a real delight, and now I'm looking for the sequel, Arabel and Mortimer, for this holiday season.
Mortimer, the raven, becomes Arabel's companion through a sad accident. He quickly takes over the household and wreaks havoc in the lives of Arabel and her parents. Arabel adores Mortimer; her mother finds him exasperating; and her easygoing father reacts to Mortimer's antics with bemused calm. The improbable events already taking place in Rumbury Town become even more bizarre with the addition of this raven (N wishes me to point out that Mortimer is a good case of "perfonication" - i.e. personification), and the result was a good romp for both N and me. I recommend the book for ages 7-9 or so. (Aiken's other books, if I recall correctly, are for somewhat older readers.)

R & I have been fans of Maupin's Tales of the City since the publication of the first volume. I recently read in Neil Gaiman's blog a series of the 20 most reread books in the UK (and I was highly gratified to find Gaiman & Pratchett's Good Omens listed above the Bible - funny and ironic, if you know the subject matter). This got me thinking about which books I tend to reread, and Maupin's series falls into that category. So imagine my pleasure when Michael Tolliver Lives came out!

The title is meaningful on several levels - the first, of course, being the message to those faithful readers that yes, our beloved Michael has survived "it all." What has happened to all the other Barbary Lane friends is revealed over the course of the book, but that's not what the book is really about. It's really about Michael - and it's really about us. All the things that have happened to him have, in various ways, happened to us as well in the years since we last read about him. How life has changed him, and the insights he has gained, are the very personal love letter from Armistead Maupin to his readers. And we love him right back.



Starting from Scratch

I've been so overwhelmed by everything that I didn't even consider blogging for a while. Yesterday I spent the whole day up at the college working on the razzin-frazzin online Chinese course I'm creating. Around mid-day I raced over to N's school for her Veterans' Day concert, planning to race back to the college to work. Well, after the concert she asked if I could take her home early (this was an option offered, but I'd been sure she wouldn't want to do it). My initial reaction was panic: "NONONO, I have to WORK!" and then I thought good grief, it's Friday, N's worked all month to get ready for this lovely program, she's so proud of her performance and she wants to spend some quality time with me. So we went home and spent time together. And today I took the whole day off from work to clean the house (I'm not going NEAR that subject!) and to help Z with more college application stuff. Just now, I thought about the blog & decided to make a stab at some catching up. I can't possibly put in all the missing book reviews & art (most of it the kids', as I've had virtually no time for mandalas, alas) in one post, so here's just a bit of it.

We just had Halloween recently, one of my favorite holidays. N created this piece of origami (she has discovered the joys of Japanese paper-folding). The added face, cheeks and limbs were her own design.
Meantime, R had an eye ailment, and in order to discover the extent of the damage, the doctor dilated the pupil. Only one pupil dilated fully made for a strange, demented look - just right for the season.
He's really a nice guy, believe me!

And now to books. I just today finished reading Stella Suberman's The Jew Store. Sounds like an offensive title, but the term was used in the south in the 1920s and 1930s (probably before and after that period as well) to refer to dry goods stores run by Jewish merchants. Suberman's father owned and ran such an establishment in a small town in Tennessee for a decade; the family was the only Jewish family in the area, and this created an interesting dynamic indeed. The book is a loving tribute not only to her parents and siblings, but also to (most of) the people of the town. Far more than this, however, it is a meticulous examination of a complex social situation that could easily have been glossed over by either sentimentality or the desire to cater to political correctness, but wasn't. I was most impressed by it.

Just before this book, I read Octavia E. Butler's Fledgling: A Novel. A couple of years ago, I read her Parable of the Sower, and every so often as I drive through our housing development I get a nightmarish flash of memory from the book, so I've honestly been putting off reading Fledgling. But, darn it, for some reason I can't seem to stay away from (good) vampire books. (Parable of the Sower, by the way, has nothing to do with vampires, but I really don't want to talk about what it's about or why it creeped me out so much - it really is the scariest book I've ever read; I hated every minute of reading and yet could not put it down.) So I finally picked it up.
I'm so glad I did! I already knew what a phenomenal writer she was; Fledgling confirms this. Butler was, as far as I know, the first African American woman to make it big in the science fiction world, and her heroine in this novel, like her other protagonists, is black. Her vampires are completely different from Stoker's or, for that matter, anyone else's, and the theme of vampirism is something fun to explore while we look at what really matter: freedom, family, sexual and racial equality - those things that Butler cared about most.

I can see why she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. I just wish she had lived to spend it.

And may I say, I am not surprised at all that she was a good friend of Neil Gaiman's.